The tilapia is a silvery-blue fish with flat bodies. They live in freshwater or brackish habitats. Though popular in the U.S. as food, they are native to Africa.
Even so, tilapia is one of the most common food fish in the United States. It’s available at most major grocery stores, alongside bass, cod, and salmon.
But these aren’t the only fish that are like tilapia, and many of the similarities go beyond taste. Many fish live in freshwater habitats or raise their young in their mouths like tilapia.
These 19 different fish all have something in common with tilapia.
1. Atlantic Cod
Scientific name: Gadus morhua
Similarity: A popular food fish throughout the U.S. with a mild flavor and a visible lateral line.
The Atlantic cod is a very important food fish throughout the U.S. and the world. There are many U.S. fisheries that supply cod, but fishers catch them for sport as well.
Tilapia is another very popular fish for farming, and they have a similar taste to cod. It’s common to swap the two in various recipes because of their similarity in flavor and texture.
These fish also use a lateral line sensory system to help them navigate and forage under the water. On tilapia and cod, the lateral line is very visible. It extends from their head all the way through their trunk.
2. Atlantic Salmon
Scientific name: Salmo salar
Similarity: A flat fish often farmed for food around the world like tilapia.
The Atlantic salmon gets its name as the only salon species that’s native to the Atlantic ocean. The U.S. banned both commercial and recreational fishing. Even so, they are another of the most popular food fish in the U.S. along with tilapia.
Furthermore, Atlantic salmon and tilapia have flat bodies. The salmon’s is a little longer, though.
3. Atlantic Shadefish
Scientific name: Argyrosomus regius
Similarity: Shadefish and tilapia have very visible lateral lines through their whole trunks.
Shadefish are part of the Perciformes order of fish, like tilapia. This order falls under the Actinopterygii class, or “ray-finned fishes.”
Ray-finned fishes like shadefish and tilapia have a swim bladder next to their inner ear. This location helps them hear even better.
They each also have a strong lateral line across their bodies. This helps them sense changes in the water around them without relying on sight or smell.
4. Bluefin Tuna
Scientific name: Thunnus thynnus
Similarity: Tilapia and bluefin tuna are two of the most popular food fish in the world.
One of three bluefin species, most of these tunas live in the warm Mediterranean Sea. Tilapia also enjoy warmer waters, although they’re freshwater fish rather than saltwater.
Also like tilapia, the bluefin is a very popular food fish, especially throughout Asia. It’s also an important predator in its respective food chain, though. This makes overfishing dangerous for the environment.
5. Brown Trout
Scientific name: Salmo trutta
Similarity: Not only is it a freshwater species in general, but brown trout are also popular as a food fish.
Tilapias are freshwater fish, although they can tolerate brackish water as well. Brown trout are the same, living in streams and lakes. They also migrate to more saline waters for spawning.
Living in almost every U.S. state, brown trout are a very popular sport fish. They’re also a significant food source, like tilapia.
6. Bumblebee Cichlid
Scientific name: Pseudotropheus crabro
Similarity: A fellow African cichlid who carries its young in its mouth the same way tilapias do.
This fish’s “bumblebee” name comes from the yellow and black bars that run across its torso. They are native to the freshwater areas of Africa, like tilapia.
Also like tilapia and many other cichlids, the bumblebee cichlid is a mouthbrooder. They hold their eggs in their mouth until they hatch and are mature enough to go off on their own.
This can lead to the bumblebee cichlid eating some of their young before they can mature.
7. Channel Catfish
Scientific name: Ictalurus punctatus
Similarity: Catfish and tilapia are two of the most farmed food fish in the United States.
The channel catfish is a long, brown fish with “whiskers” on its face. It lives in freshwater like most tilapia species. They also prefer warmer water like tilapias.
In addition, channel catfishes are one of the U.S.’s most farmed food fish. Tilapias are usually imports to the U.S. but are still very popular. They are the second-most consumed fish in the world.
8. Common Sole
Scientific name: Solea solea
Similarity: Even flatter than the tilapia, this sole is also a common food fish.
A tilapia is a flat fish, but the common sole is even flatter. It also has both of its eyes on the right side of its body. This allows it to bury itself in the seabed while still keeping watch for prey and predators.
Like tilapia, the sole is a valuable food resource. Bottom trawlers are an effective catching method as they like to sit in the sediment on the ocean floor.
9. Eastern Happy Fish
Scientific name: Astatotilapia calliptera
Similarity: A native of Africa like tilapia, the eastern happy fish is also a freshwater fish.
Both tilapia and the eastern happy fish are members of the Cichlidae family. One of the defining features of this family is their lateral lines. Unlike many other fish, cichlids have breaks in their lines rather than a whole line.
Also, tilapia and eastern happy fish are both freshwater fish native to Africa. Their introduction to North American waters was likely on purpose. This was either through pet release or for sport fishing.
10. Freshwater Angelfish
Scientific name: Pterophyllum scalare
Similarity: These flat fish prefer tropical freshwater bodies like most tilapia species.
The angelfish is one of the most common commercial tropical freshwater species available. It’s not as large a species as a tilapia, but it has the same kind of flat body. Angelfish usually grow to about six inches (15 cm) tall. Their height usually exceeds their length.
The angelfish is also a freshwater fish, like tilapias. Both kinds of fish prefer warm water as well.
11. Indo-Pacific Tarpon
Scientific name: Megalops cyprinoides
Similarity: A freshwater and brackish water fish with a protruding lower jaw like a tilapia’s.
Indo-Pacific tarpons are part of the Elopiformes order. This makes them ray-finned fishes like tilapias. They are also flat like tilapias, although they tend to be longer than they are tall.
As their name suggests, they do live in oceans as their name suggests. But these tarpons can also live in freshwater and brackish areas, as do tilapia.
Finally, the tilapia and the Indo-Pacific tarpon have comparable jaw structures. In each fish, the lower jaw protrudes further than the upper jaw. In tarpons, the lower jaw also extends further back almost past its eye.
12. Malawi Eyebiter
Scientific name: Dimidiochromis compressiceps
Similarity: This eyebiter is also an African flat-bodied mouthbrooder like a tilapia.
The Malawi eyebiter is one of the closest fish to tilapia on this list. To begin, they are both part of the Cichlidae family. They both have a dark lateral line that’s very visible and runs in a semi-broken line through their whole body.
Speaking of their bodies, these fish also have a large, flat body structure. Then, there’s their similar habitats. Both tilapia and the Malawi eyebiter are native African fishes.
Finally, eyebiter and tilapias are both mouthbrooders like all cichlids. Either the mother or the father will carry their eggs around in their mouth.
Sometimes, they’ll carry their young even after they hatch until they’re ready to survive in the open.
13. Mangrove Red Snapper
Scientific name: Lutjanus argentimaculatus
Similarity: Mangrove red snappers live in the same kinds of environments as tilapia and are active at night.
Mangrove red snappers also go by the names mangrove jack and gray snapper. They can live in a variety of habitats such as freshwater and brackish water, like most tilapias.
They’re also often caught as food like tilapia. Snappers themselves eat other fish and crustaceans. They’re nocturnal feeders, meaning they hunt and eat at night.
Tilapias are also nocturnal feeders for the most part. Outside of feeding, the Nile tilapia completes over half of all their activity during the day.
14. Nassau Grouper
Scientific name: Epinephelus striatus
Similarity: Another common food fish, particularly in the United States.
The Nassau grouper lives in areas such as southern Florida, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. They’re indiscriminate feeders, eating many different animals.
They ambush prey by sucking them in with their protruding mouth. The tilapia also has a protruding lower jaw they use to scoop in prey.
Like tilapia, the Nassau grouper is very important to U.S. fisheries. But the U.S. now prohibits catching wild Nassau groupers due to extreme overfishing.
15. Pacific Sardine
Scientific name: Sardinops sagax
Similarity: One of the larger sardines, this fish is close to small tilapia in size and popularity as food.
Sardines are famous for being tiny fishes, crammed together in tin cans as food. The Pacific Sardine, though, is larger than other species, averaging about 14 inches long (38 cm).
Tilapias are usually bigger than most sardines. But one species is close in size to the Pacific sardine. This is the blue spotted tilapia (Oreochromis leucostictus).
It averages between 2-8.5 inches (6-22 cm), but can reach up to 14 inches, like the Pacific sardine.
16. Pinstripe Menarambo
Scientific name: Paretroplus menarambo
Similarity: Menarambos and tilapias are both cichlids and have almost identical body shapes.
The pinstripe menarambo is another member of the Cichlidae family along with tilapias. Even more than that, the two fish have the same flat, compressed body shape.
Their dorsal fins continue down the length of the trunks in an uninterrupted fan. Furthermore, their scales are often soft in color, from white to silvery blue.
The menarambo, or damba, also prefers freshwater like their tilapia cousins. They are also food fish in some areas. But the menarambo’s real threats are invasive species and disease in their habitats.
17. Silver Carp
Scientific name: Hypophthalmichthys molitrix
Similarity: Similar in color to Nile tilapia, silver carps are both food fish and invasive.
Silver carps are a species of ray-finned fish that are native to Asia. In their native habitats, they swim in freshwater bodies, like the tilapia of Africa. They are also popular food fish, both in Asia and around the world.
Tilapias are also part of fishing farms. But like the silver carp, they are often imports from other countries. This is due to the fact that both species are invasive in North America and other non-native areas.
Both are very adaptable and fast-growing. So, they can soon overtake areas and become a nuisance.
18. Striped Bass
Scientific name: Morone saxatilis
Similarity: Bass and tilapia have a mild flavor that make them popular as food.
The striped bass is most common on the east coast of the United States. It lives in both the ocean and throughout rivers.
Both fish are very popular food sources. But tilapia, an invasive species, tends to be an import from areas such as Africa. The United States still allows fishing of local striped bass.
The two fish are not only popular but are also often substitutes for one another in cooking. This is due to their similar mild flavor and flaky texture after cooking.
19. Zebra Mbuna
Scientific name: Maylandia zebra
Similarity: A fish that is from Africa, the mbuna is a freshwater, maternal mouthbrooder.
This bright fish is rarely fished for food, but it is part of the private aquarium trade. It has a bluish tint to its scales as well as vertical black bars. These give it the zebra-like appearance from which it gets its name.
The zebra mbuna comes from Africa much like certain tilapias. It also shares similar brooding habits to the tilapia. That is, the zebra mbuna is also a maternal mouthbrooder.
The female fish will keep its eggs inside its mouth until they’re ready to hatch. After about three weeks, she releases them into the open. Then they rush to the nearest protective shelter.
These 19 fish all have at least one thing in common with a tilapia species, and often more than one. Many of them are part of the same taxonomic family. This means they have similar habits and appearances.
A very common theme among these fishes is their habitats. Like tilapias, many of these species are native to Africa. There are also several that are common food fish around the world.